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National Geographic elevates MN State Fair food culture to the world's biggest stage

Despite being new to the Fair this year, Cheesy Sriracha Funnel Cake bites got a shout-out from National Geographic.

Despite being new to the Fair this year, Cheesy Sriracha Funnel Cake bites got a shout-out from National Geographic. Emily Cassel

We don’t have to be told the Great Minnesota Get-Together is something special. From llama costume contests to all-you-can-drink milk, the State Fair shines like a beacon of beauty and weird. For those of us living within spitting distance of its epicenter, we can almost take this magic for granted.

But when National Geographic – a magazine launched in 1888, known for documenting the ends of the earth, from the depths of the Mariana Trench to Mt. Everest’s peak – dispatches an elite team to America’s flyover country, just to cover our State Fair’s unique food culture? That adds an extra layer of warm-fuzzies to the festivities.

National Geographic’s trio of Katie Thornton, Jenn Ackerman, and Tim Gruber roamed the Fair this past week and returned with a multi-media report fit to woo the world. In “The most absurd foods you can eat at the Minnesota State Fair,” the globetrotting publication captures the Fair’s essence in both word and image.

Ackerman and Gruber's slideshow of photos burst with humor and surrealism, whlie Thornton takes a more serious tone in her coverage. The latter does justice to Minnesota's obsession with absurd foods and dives into the origins of stuff-on-a-stick (even if she doesn't quite get our beloved Pronto Pup right). After stopping by those infamous Princess Kay of the Milky Way butter sculptures, Thornton pauses to shed light on some of the Fair’s quieter aspects. 

She writes,

But the food culture of the Minnesota State Fair is not just about consumption. Every year, bakers like St. Paul’s Kris Cramer submit their goods to a team of judges who award the highly coveted blue ribbons in categories such as “unfrosted honey cakes” and “grand cake sweepstakes.” At the urging of her in-laws ("to bring honor to our family”), the self-taught baker submitted her peanut butter cookies and oatmeal cookies—and took home blue ribbons on her first try. “I was so surprised, I had my husband double-check the results because I couldn't believe it,” Cramer says.

The best version of the Minnesota State Fair consists of these “small” honors, combined to big (tasty) effect, underscored by moments of surprise.

How lovely to end on this parting note—to be so seen by the likes of titans.